Saulius Sondeckis (conductor)

Sound recordings
Sound recordings

Saulius Sondeckis is an internationally acclaimed conductor and teacher. As a performer, he has been awarded the highest titles in Lithuania. While one could be proud of even a single achievement of his, every year still brings greater fame and acclaim to the maestro. Today Professor Sondeckis could form an orchestra of immeasurable size from his own students and a huge book would be needed to record all tours of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra and all concerts conducted by Sondeckis. And the list of the orchestras that have performed under the baton of Sondeckis would equal the latter. Over the 50 years of his career as a conductor, he has given over 3,000 concerts in almost all European countries, the USA, Japan, Cuba, Canada, Taiwan and South Korea. He has been welcomed by audiences at many famous concert halls, such as Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Berlin’s Grand Philharmonic Hall, Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, Vienna’s Musikverein and Paris’ Pleyel Hall, and festivals, including the Salzburger Festspiele, the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, the Echternach Festival, the Lucerne Festival, the Ivo Pogorelich Festival in Bad Wörishofen, the Stockholm Royal Festival, and Svyatoslav Richter’s December Musical Evenings festival in Moscow. Both Sondeckis and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, which he led for 44 years, are the performers that Lithuania has always been proud of. Sondeckis was the first Lithuanian musician to go on tour abroad with his orchestras: it was in 1964, when the student orchestra of the Čiurlionis School of Arts gave a concert in Budapest at the International ISM Conference.

Saulius Sondeckis was born on 11 October 1928 in Šiauliai. From 1948 to 1952, he studied the violin with Professor Aleksandras Livontas at the Lithuanian Conservatoire, and later went on to study the violin at the Moscow Conservatoire and conducting with Igor Markevich.

He began working as a conductor in 1955. At first he conducted the student orchestra of the Čiurlionis School of Arts. The greatest achievement with the orchestra was in 1976, when it won the gold medal at the Herbert von Karajan Youth Orchestra Competition in Berlin. On this occasion Maestro Karajan said: “I have no doubts about the future of music as I see such orchestra teachers.”

The Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, the initiator of new concert traditions and new genres in Lithuanian music, was formed by Sondeckis from the orchestra players and teachers of the Čiurlionis School of Arts in 1960. The first rehearsal took place on 23 April, and on 30 April they gave their first concert. A year later, the first composition dedicated to the orchestra appeared: the première of Teisutis Makačinas’s Trys šokiai (Three Dances) took place in September 1961. In November the same year, Balys Dvarionas performed his Concerto No. 2 for piano and chamber orchestra, which he had composed for the new ensemble. Sondeckis also enjoyed a close creative friendship with the composer Professor Stasys Vainiūnas.

As the conductor of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, Sondeckis has earned international acclaim, touring in all European countries, Japan, Cuba, Canada, Egypt, the Republic of South Africa, Korea and Taiwan. Under Sondeckis’ leadership, the orchestra played with renowned performers from all over the world: the pianists Justus Franz, Yevgeny Kissin, Vladimir Krainev and Tatyana Nikolayeva; the violinists Tatyana Grindenko, Oleg Kagan, Gidon Kremer, Igor Oistrach, Gil Shaham and Vladimir Spivakov; the cellists David Geringas, Natalia Gutman and Mstislav Rostropovich; the viola player Yuri Bashmet, the organist Jean Guillou, the trumpeters Timofei Dokshitser and Guy Touvron, the flutist Aurele Nicolet, and the singers Jose Van Dam and Yelena Obraztsova. Many concerts were given in collaboration with excellent choirs, such as the Kaunas State Choir (led by Petras Bingelis), the Moscow Chamber choir (led by Vladimir Minin) and the Ave Sol Chamber Choir of Latvia (led by Imants Kuokars). A series of unique concerts featuring the legendary narrator Peter Ustinov were performed in a number of German cities.

In 1976, the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Sondeckis, made its début at the Echternach Festival, which was followed by another seven appearances at this prestigious event and the Grand Lion Medal in 1992, four performances at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, several ones at the Rheinhau Festival, and concerts at the Ivo Pogorelich Festival, Bachwoche Ansbach Festival, Svyatoslav Richter’s December Musical Evenings festival in Moscow, the Yehudi Menuhin Festival in Gstaadt-Saane, and festivals in Switzerland, Lucerne, Berlin, Ludwigsburg and Salzburg. Sondeckis has also conducted a dozen of youth orchestras at various festivals, such as the Buckow International Chamber Orchestra Festival (Germany), the Jeune Philharmonie (Belgium), the Ost-West-Musikfest (Austria) and the Ensemble Instrumental de Grenoble (France). He has also conducted the prestigious Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra, founded by Leonard Bernstein.

Together with his orchestras, Sondeckis has built up a huge repertoire of music of all epochs and styles and has recorded a great number of LPs and CDs in Lithuania and abroad. In Sondeckis’ repertoire, compositions by Mozart and Bach occupy and exclusive place. He has conducted Bach’s The Art of Fugue, arranged for orchestra by V. Graesser, at the Frankfurter Alte Oper, and the B minor Mass in St Thomas’ Church in Leipzig (1996), standing just a few steps from Bach’s tomb, and in Bach’s home town of Eisenach, in St George’s Church, where the great composer was christened.

Both Sondeckis and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra have received great international acclaim for their performances and recordings of Mozart’s music, from all instrumental concertos to all symphonies and operas. The 27 piano concertos were performed, with the pianist Vladimir Krainev, in Vilnius, Moscow and St Petersburg. Under Sondeckis’ baton, the orchestra gave a concert performance of Don Giovanni, which was recorded by Melodia Records, and the recording was later used in the TV production of the opera.
Under the direction of Sondeckis, the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra performed much of contemporary music, giving the world premières of compositions by Rodion Shchedrin, Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denisov, Arvo Pärt and Sergei Slonimsky. Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 was dedicated to its first performers: Gidon Kremer, Tatyana Grindenko and Saulius Sondeckis. Pärt has also dedicated several of his compositions to the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra and its conductor, who has conducted also his later works. In 1985, Schnittke dedicated his Concerto Grosso No. 3 to Sondeckis and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, which then celebrated its 25th anniversary. Conducted by Sondeckis, the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra played many compositions by Lithuanian composers, thus inspiring them to compose for chamber orchestra.

Sondeckis has often been invited to conduct symphony orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Belgian National, the French Radio Philharmonic, the Polish Radio Symphony, the Malmö Symphony, the Taiwan Chamber, the Swedish Philharmonic and the Salzburg Philharmonic orchestras.

The German music critic Klaus Geitel calls Sondeckis a “musician of the highest order”. In his Gröβe Geiger unserer Zeit, Joahim W. Hartnack notes that “among the most brilliant virtuosos of the world there are three orchestras: I Musici from Rome, the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, and Spivakov’s Moscow Virtuosi.” He writes that, with the Lithuanian orchestra, Sondeckis has achieved “boundless virtuosity and musicality”.

Saulius Sondeckis led the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra until its reorganisation in 2004.

In 1988, as a distinguished teacher, Sondeckis was invited to form and lead a student chamber orchestra at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. At present, the St Petersburg Camerata, the official orchestra of the Hermitage Museum, is a symphony orchestra with its own impressive track record. Under Sondeckis’ leadership, it has not only toured in many countries – the USA, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden and Poland – but has also recorded several CDs for the series Saint Petersburg Classics, released by Sony. The CD of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, recorded by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, the St Petersburg Camerata and the Estonian Men’s Choir, was awarded five stars in the 1995/1996 Sony Classical Catalogue.

Sondeckis has been a member of the panel of judges at many international competitions, including the Herbert von Karajan Youth Orchestra Competition in West Berlin (1978), the Ernest Ansermet Competition for Conductors in Geneva, Switzerland (1983), the Tchaikovsky Violin Competition in Moscow, the USSR (1986, 1990), the Arturo Toscanini Conducting Competition in Parma, Italy (1987), the Classical Guitar Competition (1989) and the Double Bass Competition (1993) in Markneukirchen, Germany, and the Dmitri Shostakovich String Quartet Competition in St Petersburg, Russia (1996).

Sondeckis has started a number of fine traditions in Lithuania: since 31 December 1966, Haydn’s Farewell Symphony has been performed on New Year’s Eve; since 1963, Sunday concerts, featuring chamber music masterpieces alongside church music, have been given at Vilnius Cathedral (then the Picture Gallery); since 1972, the Night Serenades concert cycle has been held in the rose garden of the Tiškevičius Palace in Palanga.

Saulius Sondeckis has been awarded the highest titles in Lithuania: the State Award (1971), the Government Award (1998), the National Prize for Culture and Art (1999); the 1st and 5th Class Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas; the Medal of January 13; the Austrian 1st Class Cross of Honour for Science and Art; the Estonian Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana; and the Polish Order of Merit for services to the Republic of Poland. He is an Honorary Doctor at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre and Šiauliai University (1999), an Honorary Member of the Lithuanian Musicians Union, and an Honorary Citizen of the City of Šiauliai and Mažeikiai. In 2006, he was awarded the title of Honorary Professor at the St Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov Academy of Music.

Georges Bizet - Rodion Shchedrin "Carmen Suite

Bolero: Allegro vivo ir Torero: Moderato con stoltezza

Mozart: Piano Concerto no. 22 (Tatiana Nikolayeva - Saulius Sondeckis - 1983)

Mozart - Symphony No. 35 in D Major

P.Tchaikovsky - Andante Cantabile for cello, Op 11

Vytautas Sondeckis - cello, The Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra

Bach - S. Sondeckis & T. Nikolayeva (live 1975) Concerto in G minor BWV 1058

Bach - S. Sondeckis & T. Nikolayeva (live 1975) Concerto No. 2 in E major BWV 1053

Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra

P.Tchaikovsky - Variations on a Rococo theme Op. 33

Vytautas Sondeckis (Cello)

Saulius Sondeckis (Conductor)

The Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra